Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione on the Appeal of IPA, the Reinheitsgebot, and Not Selling Out

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The legendary brewmaster is an uncompromising champion of great beer
Sam Calagione

Dogfish Head

Calagione founded Dogfish Head in 1995.

If you’re a fan of beer, you’re most likely a fan of San Calagione. In 1995, Calagione founded Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, Delaware, and since then he’s been on a mission to push beers to the extreme, rolling out envelope-pushing beers like 120 Minute IPA, Midas Touch (with a recipe based on residue found in ancient drinking vessels), and Noble Rot (made with botrytis-infected wine grapes). Calagione has just published Off-Centered Leadership: The Dogfish Head Guide to Motivation, Collaboration, and Smart Growth, has opened a new restaurant in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, called Chesapeake & Maine, and is about to roll out two new beers, Beer To Drink Music To, a Belgian Tripel tied into Record Store Day brewed with orange peel cardamom, peppercorns, and vanilla (last year’s beer was called Positive Contact); and Romantic Chemistry IPA, brewed with mango, apricots, and ginger.

We sat down with Calagione and got his take on everything from the unending appeal of IPA to discovering a new way to smoke oysters.

On Why IPA Is Such a Popular Beer Style: “There’s never been a beer style that’s exploded like IPA. It’s a very food-friendly style. It’s hoppy and astringent, which goes very well with food, and all the subcategories like dark IPAs, session IPAs, and fruit-infused IPAs keep people interested. You can also amplify the character, flavors, and aromas with different types of hops.”

 On the Reinheitsgebot (the German beer purity law): “Humans have been brewing beer for 10,000 years. The earliest brewers looked at the culinary world for inspiration. They brewed with what was around them: spices, fruits, honey. The reinheitsgebot is nothing more than modern art censorship. When we first started brewing, people said we were heretics for taking a culinary approach. They said that we were screwing with traditional beer. But we were taking it back to its roots!”

On Selling Out to Bigger Breweries: “We’re fiercely independent. We’ve been approached by the world’s biggest breweries, but we’re never going to sell out to them. For breweries that do, well, everyone is on their own journey. My biggest fear about the little guys selling out is from a consumer awareness point of view; the more transparent a company is, the more ethical it is. Let the customers know who’s really brewing their beer, and let the customers choose.”

On His New Restaurant, Chesapeake & Maine: “Ninety-one percent of seafood sold in U.S. restaurants is not from the U.S. One hundred percent of the seafood served at this restaurant is from either the Chesapeake region or Maine. We have direct relationships with the fishermen.

“When they’d bring in oysters, we’d keep them in a saltwater holding pen, and we wanted to experiment with that. So we tried brewing a hop tea and holding them in that, but they didn’t like that and closed right up. But then we found an alder wood- and mesquite-smoked salt and added that to the water, and the oysters loved it. And you can really taste the smoke in them, even when you eat them raw. We call them Smoke on the Water Oysters.”

Dogfish’s next releases will include Seaquench Ale, a salt-infused beer brewed with a combination of German Kolsch, Gose, and Berliner Weisse; and its winter seasonal, Beer for Breakfast, brewed with breakfast-minded ingredients including Delaware scrapple. Dogfish’s motto, “off-centered ales for off-centered people” is as true today as it’s always been!

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